74 Philly schools are dismissing students early Wednesday due to extreme heat

“It's really sad,” said one parent. “They can’t get a regular education. They should have gotten air conditioning years ago.”

students lining up outside of school

Students line up for class outside Guion S. Bluford Elementary School for the first day of school, September 5, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Hundreds of School District of Philadelphia students found themselves back at home within hours of starting their new classes Tuesday.

Their schools were forced to dismiss early as temperatures rose into the mid-90s, because the schools lack adequate air conditioning.

“Sweat kept kicking in,” said 10th grader Landon Phy, who sat in class at South Philadelphia High School for just a few hours Tuesday before being dismissed. “It was pretty hot.”

The Philadelphia area is under a Heat Advisory, with heat index values up to 101, through Wednesday evening. Temperatures are forecast to stay in the 90s all week.

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The district on Friday that 74 schools “in need of air conditioning and/or electrical systems upgrade” would dismiss three hours early Tuesday and Wednesday due to the heat. Officials have promised to continue monitoring temperatures throughout the week and to announce decisions about dismissal times for Thursday and Friday by noon the day before.

The change in schedule frustrated some parents, like Donna Collazo, who said she wasn’t given enough time to plan.

“Oh we’re going to dismiss early because it’s hot, but we’re only telling you for two days — not sure about the other two days yet,” Collazo said. “Do you think everyone has the ability to just yo-yo the way you guys want us to? It’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating.”

The district’s Extreme Heat Emergency Response Procedures go into effect when outside temperatures are forecast to reach or exceed 85℉ for one or more consecutive days.

Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. told WHYY News that district schools have to dismiss early when temperatures rise because they don’t have appropriate cooling systems.

“Doesn’t mean that they don’t have some air conditioning, but they don’t have adequate air conditioning when you can keep the entire student body in school on hot weather days,” he said.

Watlington blamed the issue on a lack of resources.

“This is a huge symptom of historic underfunding, and one of the best examples I can point to quite frankly,” he said.

Jairo Rodriguez, who started 9th grade at South Philadelphia High School Tuesday, is used to sitting in class without air conditioning.

“I think I can survive without any A/C,” Rodriguez said after being dismissed early. “In our old school, we didn’t have any air conditioning.”

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“It’s really sad,” Collazo said. “They can’t get a regular education. They should have gotten air conditioning years ago.”

District officials said students will be able to get a meal and some class instruction before dismissal. The district is encouraging families to keep their children hydrated, and ensure that they wear sunscreen and light-colored and lightweight clothing.

“Student safety is our number one priority, and the district is taking several measures to help maintain healthy and comfortable classroom conditions,” Oz Hill, the school district’s chief operating officer, said in a press release last week.

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